We Head to Ipswich on Saturday for the Battle of the Hopeless - Notes for Reading
Friday, 1st Mar 2019 11:53 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“We are where we were a couple of months ago, in a head-to-head with Rotherham”, “Ipswich are surely done for, Bolton have all sorts of off-field problems and Rotherham have two wins in 27, and none away from home. We could end up worse than them, but I am certainly not writing us off yet.”
The Royals will arrive in Ipswich sitting fourth-bottom in the table and only ahead of Rotherham on goal difference. Many felt that a real opportunity was missed last Saturday when they allowed the Millers to grab a late equaliser in a vitally important relegation six-pointer at the Madejski Stadium.
“The bottom four are all dire and none of this quartet are going to embark on a wonderful winning streak. It will come down to who grinds out the odd dirty win and scrappy draw”, “The table would have been a lot rosier with a win over Rotherham. It’s 50/50 which division we will be in next year.”
“We are in trouble for sure but could beat Wigan, Ipswich or anyone in mid-table too. I have thought we are going down for ages, but it will be closer than I thought and we’re far from finished”, “To think there are three teams below us in the league and effectively worse than us is unbelievable.”
“This club is a shadow of its former self and not in a very good state, to put it mildly”, “We have been mismanaged for 18 months and have gone through three managers as well as CEOs and directors of football”, “Only the most deluded fans believed we weren’t in for a relegation fight back in August.”
“There seems to be a level of arrogance among some Reading fans. We’re 21st for a reason and can’t expect to win any game in reality”, “It always looks like we’re playing within ourselves and we never go for it but in reality we’re not a good team. We’re lacking in quality, creativity and commitment.”
“We are still going to be in a relegation battle this season, but I can clearly see what Gomes is trying to achieve far more than at any time under Clement. There are plenty of things to improve but it’s over-negative for supporters to suggest that there have been no improvements at all under him.”
The 48-year-old Portuguese took charge of the Royals just before Christmas after predecessor Paul Clement left the club by mutual consent earlier in December. Fans were impressed with his signings during the January window and can see more clearly the way in which he’s getting the team to play.
“We have an absolute mess of disorganised floaters.” Some have voiced fears that he is taking the squad back to the insipid football under former manager Jaap Stam. “I’m starting to notice a theme of the entire midfield five having no idea of where they are supposed to be or what their shape is.”
“Gomes might have brought an air of positivity to the club but what difference will that make if we are relegated?”, “There has been no improvement in results and tactically he has also taken us back to the same mistakes we were making under Stam. He’s a nice bloke but I fear he’s out of his depth.”
“I’m finished with Gomes for bringing on John O’Shea against Rotherham and inviting them to attack us relentlessly”, “We’re more defensively organised under him but he has also made some farcical decisions”, “I’m a little surprised that the main issue I find with him is just how negative he can be.”
The January Transfer Window
Gomes strengthened their attack and defence in the January window with astute loan signings. Matt Miazga, a centre-back (from Chelsea) and keeper Emiliano Martinez (from Arsenal) have made solid contributions since arriving as has striker Nelson Oliveira, another loan addition from the Canaries.
Keeper Vito Mannone (on loan to Minnesota United), centre-half Tiago Ilori (to Sporting Lisbon) and midfielders Dave Edwards (to Shrewsbury) and David Meyler (on loan to Coventry) have all left along with winger Sone Aluko, who this week joined Chinese Super League club Beijing Renhe on loan.
Many Royals felt that they failed to rebalance their midfield. Leandro Bacuna switched to Cardiff City and was replaced by loanees Lewis Baker (from Chelsea) and Ovie Ejaria (from Liverpool). Many see them as too similar to Liam Kelly and John Swift and lacking the steel and bite their midfield needs.
Formation and Tactics
“A few months ago, I would have said we looked a relegation side all over, now I’m not too sure. We now have a strategy of using loanees to find moments of quality to pick up enough points”, “I hope that the extra class of Martinez, Miazga and Oliveira will be enough to drag us through to safety.”
“On our day we can beat any side, but the issue is that we haven’t had enough of our days”, “We know this team is powderpuff soft and won’t turn up. They are better players individually but the other threatened sides have more of a team ethic and work-rate to overcome their limited ability.”
“Our obsession with passing out from the back is worse than hoofing it forward”, “We try to play out from the back but we get into trouble because we don’t play with any tempo whatsoever”, “Teams in this division who are successful get the ball moving forward with speed and urgency. We don’t.”
The starting XI (above) for Saturday’s Millers game kept the familiar back four and three in midfield which Gomes has preferred. Royals were relieved to see only three changes from the team that had previously lost heavily away to Sheffield United.
Emiliano Martinez, Matt Miazga and Liam Moore have quickly formed a solid unit at the heart of the back four. Right-back Andy Yiadom is seen as solid defensively but less effective going forward, while Tyler Blackett on the left adds athleticism pushing forward but is also guilty of switching off at times.
With their two holding midfielders Saeid Ezatolahi and Andy Rinomhota injured, Reading ended up bringing on the immobile John O’Shea to screen the defence late on against the Millers. Liam Kelly, John Swift, Lewis Baker and Ovie Ejaria are all technically good but also too similar and lightweight.
“It’s a strange tactic to completely change the wingers in game after game. I don’t understand that.” Gomes has experimented with midfielders, strikers and full-backs in wide midfield roles along with wingers Mo Barrow, Callum Harriott and Garath McCleary, trying to find the right attacking balance.
“We can all see the ideal that Gomes wants. It worked for our goal against Rotherham but it happens about once every five games.” In attack, Nelson Oliveira is seen as a better finisher with a better all-round attacking game than the athletic Yakou Meite and the currently injured Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.
“We desperately need players with character. Recent results have shown that we’re not a 1-0 sort of team”, “It’s amazing what defeat can do to mentally fragile players. If they keep losing to poor teams the last little bit of belief will drain away. It makes it so hard for the players to pick themselves up.”
Rotherham 1 – 1 Reading
“Well, that was awful. We had plenty of chances to win it but a dire negative substitution played a part in conceding an equaliser”, “We conceded because for some reason we stopped attacking in the second half. Was this tactics or stupidity?”, “A spineless performance today, totally unacceptable.”
“Rotherham tried hard but they lacked quality.” Ovie Ejaria put Reading ahead on 31 minutes after rounding off a flowing move but Rotherham’s Semi Ajayi levelled on 79 after Will Vaulks's cross was flicked on by Clark Robertson. “Rotherham kept it very simple and they played to their strengths.”
“A tale of two teams, one Rotherham, who are limited but trying to scratch and claw their way out of relegation, and the other us, who are trying to tip-tap our way out of it”, “Rotherham were a tidy League One side who can’t usually compete quality-wise at this level when they are promoted.”
The introduction of John O’Shea as a holding midfielder with the team leading was severely criticised by Royals. “The O’Shea substitution sent out totally the wrong message with 20 minutes to go. It was a big error”, “They were there for the taking out wide but we lacked any self-belief or commitment.”
Sheffield United 4 – 0 Reading
“There goes the goal difference”, “Thank God it’s over, we wouldn’t have scored if we had played for a week”, “Sheffield United’s style of play was a pleasure to watch. They were quick, incisive and they always took right options”, “They are a really good side and Chris Wilder is an exceptional manager.”
“Bloody hell, those highlights. It could have been 7-0.” The Blades scored after just 38 seconds, when Kieron Freeman bundled home Mark Duffy's low cross. Gary Madine’s brace on 16 and 44 made the outcome safe before the break and John Fleck's deflected strike made it 4-0 shortly after the restart.
“The team on the pitch had no belief that they could pull it back”, “We played with no intent and our build-up play is some of the sloppiest, lumbering, obvious, uncreative and toothless in the division”, “I came away from that with no real hope. The players aren’t good enough”, “We got smashed up.”
“I don’t like this merry-go-round of many combinations and no continuity.” Gomes changed three of his five midfielders (above) from their win over Blackburn and it was dismantled by the Blades. “Our midfield was dire, loads of loose passes, slow and ponderous play and no movement off the ball.”
Reading 2 – 1 Blackburn
“Phew, we’re out of the relegation zone. Now comes the tricky bit of staying there”, “A fantastic win, yes, but in no way was it a fantastic performance”, “Everyone put their necks on the line to win the game and just showed passion, urgency and guts”, “And that, friends, is what is called winning ugly.”
Reading went ahead in first-half stoppage time when Swift converted Yiadom's cutback against the run of play. Amari'i Bell levelled with an angled effort on 82 from inside the box, but Oliveira scored three minutes later for Reading to seal what was only their second win since the start of November.
“That was stressful”, “We were 1-0 up after one of the worst halves I can remember. We bored them into giving the ball away”, “The first half was as shocking as I have seen in recent years, but it was a real gutsy second-half performance in contrast”, “The win over Blackburn papered over the cracks.”
In an experimental starting XI (above) Gomes switched winger Sone Aluko into central midfield and moved left-back Omar Richards and central midfielder Ovie Ejaria out wide. “The midfield looked so lightweight and proved to be so”, “They looked like they had never played together beforehand.”
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“Emiliano Martinez makes the right goalkeeping decisions at the right time.” The 26-year-old January loan signing from Arsenal “relieves the pressure on us and calms things down”, “He gives us superb distribution and sets off really quick counterattacks. We would be in a worse position without him.”
“Martinez plays very well but will always make one dodgy pass in every game”, “His shot-stopping, command of the box and organisation of the defence are brilliant”, “He’s calm, confident and really in control of his defence”, “I am really impressed with his ability to pick out defenders with the ball.”
“Andy Yiadom is mobile and physical. He’s up for a battle and has a good attitude.” The 27-year-old ex-Barnsley right-back “breaks well from defence but is reliant on his right foot when trying to create anything. He lacks finesse in the final third”, “He works hard defensively but he has no end product.”
“Yiadom blocks and tackles brilliantly and is really good in the air”, “He gets stuck in up and down the wing and his interceptions and brilliant surges forward will get the crowd excited”, “Please don’t pass the ball out to him from the back or he will lose it. He plays himself into trouble far too often.”
“Tyler Blackett is a mix of untroubled and idiotic moments.” The 24-year-old ex-Manchester United left-back “has been one of our most consistent players this season. He’s an easy target for criticism because of his casual style”, “He isn’t quick thinking and is oblivious to what’s going on around him.”
Tyler Blackett concedes a penalty v Pitman
“Blackett does switch off”, “He can be a complete liability who trots back when losing possession”, “We miss his physical presence but his decision-making is so poor. He slows play right down, plays it safe and we end up under a lot of pressure”, “It’s really risky when he loses possession upfield.”
“It seems that Chris Gunter’s stock at the club is finally dwindling.” The 29-year-old ex-Nottingham Forest right-back has been a fringe player lately. “He isn’t good enough offensively slowing the game down at every opportunity”, “He always backs off and his first instinct is to pass back or sideways.”
“Omar Richards is far too defensively naïve to start as a left-back.” The 21-year-old youth product “is a work in progress but clearly not what we need playing at full-back in a relegation scrap”, “He must be a lot more careful with his passing out of defence because he can get caught out far too often.”
“Richards offers more defensive protection than Mo Barrow on the left flank but gives us no threat on the attack”, “He’s pretty comfortable on the ball going forward but lacks the game about him yet to beat a man, although his crossing is decent”, “He can stop an opposition threat from that area.”
“John O’Shea looked utterly lost in midfield against Rotherham and didn’t touch the ball in his first 10 minutes on the pitch.” The 37-year-old one-time Manchester United man “is totally reliant on his positioning and reading of the game because he has no pace”, “A rabbit in xenon-beam headlights.”
“Matt Miazga is a solid centre-half who wins his battles.” The 23-year-old January loan signing from Chelsea and a USA international “impresses more and more with each game”, “He’s a no-nonsense, solid, big and dominant defender who will simply do a job rather than try to look pretty on the ball.”
“Miazga bosses it at the back”, “He was pulled apart too easily at Sheffield United, but he also had Tammy Abraham in his pocket against Villa”, “His height is an advantage as he takes good positions and wins his headers”, “He wins his aerial duels and tracks the ball, what more could we ask for?”
“Moore is solid and does little wrong defensively.” The 26-year-old former Leicester centre-back “is one of the few who puts his body on the line, but is half the player he was”, “He exclusively passes to the player next to him and slows everything down”, “He makes good blocks but dithers on the ball.”
Tom Lawrence v Liam Moore
“Moore is a decent defender but he’s painfully slow on the ball. He takes too long and is incapable of passing into the space in front of the player”, “He does well defensively but in possession he’s too negative”, “We need to stop playing through him at the start of each attack. It slows the play down.”
“I’m afraid I’m not convinced by Lewis Baker.” The 23-year-old January loanee from Chelsea “is neat and tidy and capable of wonder passes but loses the ball far too often”, “He’s calm, assured and he can pick a pass given the time and space. He’s also pretty robust and difficult to shake off the ball.”
“Baker isn’t a holding player, he’s an archetypal number eight with a good scoring record who likes to get into the box”, “We were told he was a technical player but all he did was play pretty triangles with his mate John Swift”, “He has obvious talent but he’s too casual at times”, “Not what we need.”
“Ovie Ejaria looks like he has a decent touch but he shouldn’t be playing as a deep midfielder. He is a number 10 or a wide option.” The 21-year-old January loanee from Liverpool “has good movement but he reminds me of a teenager who has grown eight inches and can’t control their body anymore.”
“Ejaria is too sloppy to play in a deep role. I’m not convinced by him all round but his best quality is his close control, which isn’t that useful on its own but is probably most dangerous around the area. I’m honestly not sure what we should do with this guy. He basically doesn’t look up to standard.”
“Asking Liam Kelly to play as a midfield hard man leaves him on a hiding to nothing.” The 23-year-old youth product “doesn’t have the physique to do all the closing down jobs but his passing should be better”, “He’s a decent tackler and good positionally, but he can’t play in the same team as Swift.”
“My biggest complaint about Kelly is that he’s simply too safe in his work. There’s no ability to spot a defence-splitting pass or try anything different”, “He makes very few forward passes and everything is sideways”, “He always plays it to the feet of the nearest man regardless of whether a pass is on.”
“Swift is an enigma.” The 23-year-old former Chelsea man “makes tidy creative passes with the usual lack of an end product. Poor shooting, set pieces and losing the ball”, “He blows hot and cold and is our one source of inspiration. He always shows for the ball but always has several mistakes in him.”
“I can’t describe how bad Swift was at Sheffield United”, “I think we can all visualise”, “I have never seen a midfielder miscontrol anything as much, he was by far the worst of the three”, “He is capable of game changing moments but also of floppy displays”, “Too much fluff and not enough crunch.”
Wingers and Wide Midfielders
“Callum Harriott tries hard but is lacking in quality.” The 24-year-old ex-Charlton winger has had an injury-blighted time at Reading “He has the raw pace and ability to make things happen but he was abysmal at Sheffield United”, “He looks half-decent and very lively but his end product is not great.”
“Harriott didn’t do much wrong at Villa without doing anything outstandingly right either”, “In the FA Cup defeat to Manchester United he was as impressive as he was before his injuries. We need to keep him at all costs”, “He has looked hungry to play. He’s sharp, works hard and creates chances.”
“Garath McCleary used to be a proper winger but is not so much anymore.” The 31-year-old former Nottingham Forest man “is still a useful option off the bench and did well against Rotherham”, “He’s not the player he used to be, but he’s not far behind the competition creatively and better defensively.”
“McCleary does at least know his game and what he’s trying to do. He works harder than the others and plays more direct. You can rely on him to run at players and he can stretch defences by playing with real width”, “He’s a creative wide outlet but I’m not sure we will play that way under Gomes.”
“Barrow gives us more options on the counter and injects pace into the team.” The 26-year-old ex-Swansea winger “is the only player who gets you on your feet with an exciting run”, “He has played pretty much every game this season and contributed nothing. He should have many more assists.”
Adam Webster v Modou Barrow
“Mo Barrow is the only player who, when he gets the ball and runs at defences, creates an audible sense of expectation in the crowd. The problem is that he barely runs at people anymore, certainly not to the extent he did last season”, “People overrate him as he poses no threat in the final third.”
“Yakou Meite is direct, strong and willing to take his man on.” The 23-year-old ex-Paris St Germain man “is a raw centre-forward playing on the wing. He is picked there for his strength as a possible target for the keeper to aim at. He provides the energy we don’t have and helps push teams back.”
“Meite isn’t a great finisher but he gives us an outlet we otherwise don’t have. He’s really not very good but brings effort, strength and desire, and it lifts the team and the fans”, “He’s not the most gifted player in the squad and he wastes chances, but he is somehow strangely vital to the team.”
“I like Danny Loader but he’s not ready and simply isn’t contributing enough.” The 18-year-old youth product “is too inexperienced, small and shot-shy to lead the line in a relegation battle”, “While he is promising and has very good movement, he has no physical presence and needs development time.”
“I knew we were getting a finisher in Oliveira, but didn’t realise what an all-round great player he is.” The 27-year-old January loan signing from Norwich and Portugal international “works his socks off and his touch is superb. He’s quick, has great vision and finishing, He’s quite the compete forward.”
“Oliveira clearly wants to score all the time and can finish with quality. He works hard holding up the ball too”, “He’s a striker who can make the difference between one point and three. That is what all great players are about”, “Norwich fans saw he would lose interest but that’s the bitterness talking.”
Oliveira picked up a facial injury in a coming together with ex-Blue Tyrone Mings who is currently on loan at Aston Villa. “The Mings injury may turn out to be a blessing. He was very appreciative of the way he was looked after by everyone at the club”, “Boy, oh boy, what can you say? He’s a class act.”
Royals’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Ipswich are already down”, “In a way it takes the pressure off them”, “The bottom four all deserve to go down to be honest. Woeful, the lot of them. Maybe we will survive for the second year running thanks to others being worse, but it certainly won’t be due to our taking control of our own destiny.”
“Bolton are the league’s whipping boys and Ipswich have had chances to start collecting points but have failed every time. They look like a team resigned to their fate who might actually be okay with going down”, “They will see this as a must-win game, anything less and they are probably down.”
“So, Ipswich are down to their third-choice striker and their manager is banned from the touchline. We all know what happens next.” Royals are taking nothing for granted on Saturday. With one win on the road all season and a historically poor record at Portman Road, many are fearing the worst.
“Reading will be up against it as Ipswich will probably see this as the last chance saloon. An Ipswich win would just about keep their slimmest belief in a miracle alive while a defeat would set them 12 points adrift of safety and really all but extinguish their life in the top two divisions.”
“Reading will have to conjure up something resembling a fight and win the right to play the way they want, as turning up, sitting back and playing deep with slow passing just isn’t going to cut it”, “They looked better than us when we played them earlier this season but they just don’t win their games.”
“This one is hard to call. If you believe Lambert, they are amazing every week yet their form is just as bad now as it was before he became manager. I just think we will probably concede very early and struggle to get in to the game until it is too late.”
“Ipswich are struggling to have any fit strikers at all. They will probably stick a centre-back up top and he will score a hat-trick”, “They will be fine as they have that big lump playing for them who used to play for Huddersfield”, “Colin Quaner is exactly like Yakou Meite, only with a slightly worse touch.”
“I honestly can't see us doing anything other than winning this game. They are total and utter dross”, “Beware, Ipswich were the bottom club when they came to our place, weren't they?”
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